An inauspicious beginning

James Boswell’s second separate publication is a poem entitled An elegy on the death of an amiable young lady (Edinburgh, 1761), published when he was 21 years old. The poem itself takes up just 6 pages of the 24-page pamphlet, the remainder being occupied by the effusive praise of three “recommendatory letters,” one of which, signed J— B—, was written by Boswell himself! The fulsome praise of the letters is explained by Boswell biographer Frederick Pottle, who writes that Boswell submitted them for publication in an anthology of Scottish poetry, the editor of which, Sir Andrew Erskine “probably thought the verses too bad for printing in the collection, but, as he did not wish to hurt Boswell’s feelings … he suggested they be printed as burlesques.” Boswell apparently found publishing his seriously-intended bad poetry as a parody of bad poetry preferable to no publication at all.

The English Short Title Catalog records only one other U.S.-held copy of this rare pamphlet, in the comprehensive Boswell collection at Yale.

Published in:John Overholt |on July 19th, 2005 |Comments Off on An inauspicious beginning

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